The taxi industry is in trouble. According to a recent report, the taxi population is the lowest it’s been in eight years. In fact, the taxi population has fallen every year since 2014, the year after Uber and Grab appeared on the scene.
Everyone knows Grab and Uber are the chief culprits, which has led directly or indirectly to calls to regulate car share services. Everything from requiring car share drivers to get a vocational licence to, most recently, imposing a miminum age on Grab and Uber drivers has been suggested.
But even if the Grab and Uber car supply gets drastically restricted, that doesn’t mean the taxi industry will ever see it’s pre-2014 heydays. The transport industry has been evolving over the years and is a far cry from what it used to be. Here are six other reasons taxi numbers have fallen.
1. Growing popularity of cycling and PMDs
Singaporeans have taken to PMDs such as kick scooters like fish to water, as a way of finding an alternative to paying for an expensive COE while avoiding long waits for buses and MRT breakdowns.
And the LTA, probably sensing that getting more Singaporeans into cycling and PMDs is a good way to reduce the number of complaints about MRT breakdowns, plans to install more bicycle parking spaces and has already extended indefinitely the scheme allowing foldable bikes and PMDs on public transport.
2. Rise of bike sharing
The future of bike-sharing looks bright. Despite some earlier hiccups, bike-sharing operators have been setting up stations in various neighbourhoods in Singapore.
Like PMD users, many bike sharing users use this mode of transport to get themselves to the nearest MRT station—a trip that no doubt some used to make by taxi, especially in areas with unreliable bus services.
The LTA intends to triple the number of people in Singapore using cycling as part of their daily commute, which will do the taxi industry no favours.
3. Enhanced MRT network
Remember the days when the MRT network consisted only of the red and green lines? Back then, relying on a combination of feeder buses and the MRT could take so long, people often had no choice but to hob into a cab in order to not have to spend their remaining years on public transport.
The MRT network today has grown considerably over the years, and will continue to do so in the next few years. With more people living within walking distance of an MRT station, that also means that fewer people would actually save time by taking a taxi.
4. Rise of flexi work and staggered hours
While the typical Singapore workplace is still far from flexible, many public sector employees now enjoy staggered hours. You also hear now and then of young people working in start-ups who get to work remotely or enjoy flexi hours. Then there’s the growing number of freelancers and gig workers who don’t need to show up at the office at 9am.
That also means fewer people will be faced with the urgency of having to rush to work in a cab because they woke up late.
5. Smaller family sizes and rising number of singles
Think it’s tough taking the MRT? Try doing so with a screaming kid clutching at your ankles. While a car tends to be regarded as a necessity for families with young children or elderly people, those who can’t afford one usually end up taking a cab.
Now that our birth rate has fallen to such a spectacularly low level, family sizes are much smaller than before, and more couples are not having children at all. That means the number of families who take taxis because it’s hard to handle their kids might fall, too.
6. Cab shortages
Despite the wake-up call that car share services have delivered to taxi drivers, cab shortages continue to be a big problem. You STILL get rejected by multiple cabs who all claim they’re “changing shift”.
If you need to wait one hour to get a cab home after work, there is little reason not to just take the MRT—or order a Grab or Uber.
What does this mean for the taxi industry?
Take a look at the reasons above. Most of them are actually positive for society at large. More people cycling and a more comprehensive MRT network can take pressure off the roads and ease traffic congestion, not to mention offer Singaporeans a cheaper and faster way to get around.
No matter how much the authorities try to protect the taxi industry, it may be time to admit that Singapore would be better off with fewer cabs anyway.
Instead of brainstorming ways to tweak the booking process or taxi fares, it may be time to cushion the blow for taxi drivers and help them make transitions to other careers. For instance, subsidies could be offered to incentivise taxi drivers to take courses and acquire skills that will enable them to do other jobs.
How often do you take taxis now compared to five years ago? Tell us in the comments!